Whenever someone asks me “If you hadn’t become a mangaka, what would you have been?” I have trouble answering. I feel like I draw manga because I have no other place to go. I have no other redeeming features, so drawing manga was all I could do. I’m defective, but I was also proud of that fact.
The royalties from my first published volume had been deposited into my bank account, and I had just moved from my 10.5 square meter apartment in Kouenji to a 3DK apartment in Takadanobaba. I was still using my apartment as my own office, but it was finally now large enough for me to actually live inside it.
I drew in my own private 10.5 square meter room, while my staff members lined up their desks in the other tatami matted room and worked in there. This apartment cost 170,000 yen per month. (At first, I had a female friend live there with me as a roommate, but she wouldn’t pay her rent, so I quickly kicked her out.)
At the time, there were two large factions of people in the editors’ office: the old editor-in-chief’s faction, and the new editor-in-chief’s faction. The old editor-in-chief liked challenging pieces that fit well with a magazine targeted toward young adults, while the new editor-in-chief preferred wholesome, cheerful pieces that would fit better in a boys’ magazine. In fact, he had worked as an editor-in-chief for a boy’s magazine before this, and when he came to our office, he brought a lot of changes in policy with him.
My editor F-san was allied with this new editor-in-chief, so of course, he wanted me to start writing storylines that were more kid-oriented. Perhaps because I had drawn a lot of deaths up to this point, all of a sudden, he said to me in what was basically an order, “Don’t draw any more people dying! No matter what!”
In short, he wanted me to draw a “strong, wholesome superhero” who always rescued the victims.
I didn’t like the new editor’s policies. If I was a genius who could dance my way through society without any trouble, then I wouldn’t have become a mangaka. And telling someone not to draw any scenes where characters die in a rescue manga is just ludicrous.
But then, F-san said: “If someone who was actually in a marine accident read the manga and saw a victim die, they’d be hurt.”
So to him, “not death = wholesome,” and “death = unwholesome.” If we were to stand in the shoes of someone who had actually been in a marine accident and think of it that way, it’d be horrible. I had no intentions of drawing some cheap, melodramatic manga where the only purpose was to make people cry when drowning people get saved, nor did I want to create mere entertainment that helped people turn their eyes away from how cruel reality can be.
But even before this, when I heard about the new policies, and was instructed by the new editor-in-chief on how I should change the direction of my manga, I just said “It’s already started, so I can’t change it now.”
The editors did everything they could to force their own ideologies on me, and it did nothing but obstruct me from my work. If only they wouldn’t get in my way, this would be so much easier, I thought.
I was also taken aback by how he would verbally tear apart the editors on the old editor-in-chief’s side. To me, they were all employees at the same company, so even if they felt like complaining about someone else, it seemed the moral thing to do was just to shut up.
I couldn’t understand why he would say bad things about a work that was currently in serialization in his own magazine. He’d talk about a manga that was particularly dark and say “If yours turns out like that, you’re finished,” over and over again, as if it would make me decide to write a wholesome manga. He probably also said bad things about me to other authors.
Whenever I heard him talk bad about other authors, that was all I thought about. He’s saying the very same thing about me. I even wondered why he couldn’t see it himself. Perhaps because he and the other editors simply thought they were so much greater than mangaka, they had simply numbed themselves to what it really meant to talk bad about other people.
I’ll never forget when I went to go introduce myself to the new editor-in-chief. I thought I had done my best to introduce myself politely, but he just kept his face pointed down toward his desk, and mumbled out the following:
“Your art is too dark. Can you make it lighter?”
I drew lots of detail in my pictures, and used a lot of layers, so he probably just wanted me to make it simpler and brighter, like a kid’s comic.
I was stunned. That was all he had to say?
That was the only thing he ever said to me, up until my serialization finished. From that point on, he would never talk directly to the artists, and always had his editors push his “policies” on them. To him, the artists were little more than tools used to make a magazine, and the only thing he cared about was how well they obeyed him. These changes in policy eventually came back to hurt him, as they pushed many promising authors away. Several years later, the magazine went bankrupt.
In Volume 4 of Umizaru, I was planning to kill off one character. I had laid all the groundwork for this event, and right when the arc was coming to its climax, they ordered me not to kill anyone. I couldn’t change the story at this point, but when I turned my storyboards in, they ordered me to change them. This forced me to explain every little plot point I had planned up to this point, and why this event was necessary to tie it all together, or else the initial concept of the manga would be unfulfilled.
But F-san just replied with: “You can keep drawing it without killing anyone off.” He didn’t listen to a thing I said.
This is where things started to level off. “I could keep drawing, but it’ll be bad. And I have no desire to redraw it just so that it can fit your policies.”
“No. Just do what I say,” he said at the end, as the conversation devolved into a child’s argument.
When I finished the manuscripts, I usually faxed them to the editors’ office, and F-san would tell me what needed changed over the phone.
This is what a religious cult phone call must sound like. They won’t let you hang up until you say ‘I believe.’
If I hadn’t become a mangaka, what would I be doing? I was so much of a screw-up that drawing manga was the only thing I could do, and I was also proud that I was a defect. It was all my own fault, after all. If my manga became popular, then everything I had done up until then would become worthwhile, but if it didn’t, then I would simply lose my job. If I screwed up, I wouldn’t have anyone else to blame it on, so I just had to trust in myself. If a person who could only draw manga lies with their manga, they won’t last.
In the end, I ignored the new policies and just drew what I wanted to.
That was all I could do, after all…
And as a result, I held on tight to the top spot in the popularity rankings.
F-san probably convinced himself that it was all thanks for him “giving up in the end and letting Sato-kun draw what he wanted,” but if that was always the case, then why did we always need to argue about it? It made no sense.
If an editor’s job was “to get in the way of the artist,” then F-san was a superstar. But I had a very strong desire to not waste what little time I had, so I started working hard to avoid conversation with him at all costs. I already avoided him to a certain degree, but now I was truly actively avoiding speaking to him as much as I could. In fact, I just gave up communicating with him altogether.
“Being a mangaka isn’t fun at all!” is what I thought in my second year, similar to what a new company employee feels in his second year. I loved manga, but I hated drawing it for a commercial magazine. Were they merely holding me in contempt because I was young? Or were all those editors simply insane?
I was 25.
To Be Continued